Covering Louisiana

Jun 14, 2011 9:24 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP

Jindal vetoes 4-cent cigarette tax renewal

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. Bobby Jindal rejected a 4-cent cigarette tax renewal Monday night, setting up a showdown with lawmakers over whether they will override a gubernatorial veto for the first time in 18 years.
The governor had said for days that he would veto the legislation by Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, calling it a tax hike because the levy is set to expire.
"I have made a commitment to the taxpayers of Louisiana to oppose all attempts to raise taxes. For this reason, I have vetoed House Bill No. 591 and hereby return it to the House of Representatives," Jindal wrote in a short, three-sentence veto message to the House clerk.
In advance of the veto, the Republican governor has been directly appealing to GOP lawmakers, asking them not to vote for an override, which would be an embarrassing display of defiance to Jindal in a state where governors traditionally hold a lot of sway over the Legislature.
The bill would keep an expiring 4-cent per pack cigarette tax in place. Without the renewal, Louisiana's cigarette tax will drop to 32 cents per pack in June 2012.
Supporters say the renewal will discourage smoking and provide needed health care money. Opponents say the tax wasn't intended to be around permanently and won't keep smokers away from the deadly habit. Tea party groups called for defeat of the renewal.
The cigarette tax, first enacted 11 years ago, generates $12 million annually and would be dedicated to health care under the Ritchie proposal.
Two-thirds of the House and Senate voted for the tax renewal, enough to pass a veto override. However, the House passed the renewal with the exact number of votes needed for passage, so Jindal only needs to pull a few supporters away to keep his veto in place.
Democrats and independents voted in a near bloc to support the tax, but the renewal divided the GOP. Republicans, many of whom voted to pass Ritchie's bill, are expected to decide the fate of the override. Several GOP lawmakers have said that while they support keeping the cigarette tax in place, they won't necessarily agree to overrule the governor.
If the Legislature votes to override, Jindal would be the first governor to have a veto overruled since Edwin Edwards in 1993. Only two gubernatorial vetoes have been overridden in modern times in Louisiana. The other was an abortion ban vetoed by Buddy Roemer in 1991.
House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, said he will support an override.
"I think it's a mistake to lower taxes on cigarettes," he said.
But Tucker also said the House won't vote on an override, unless the Senate supports it first.
Earlier this session, Ritchie shelved a proposal to raise the tax another 70 cents, facing strong opposition and realizing it was unlikely to get out of the House tax committee.

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